OFC 2020 - Attending conferences in a different way

by Mitchell Gebheim / March 20, 2020

For the past 40 years, The Optical Networking and Communication Conference & Exhibition (OFC) has drawn attendees from all corners of the globe to meet and greet, teach and learn, make connections, and move the industry forward.  This year with the coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns, there were major changes to the event.

OFC was originally expected to have over 8,000 attendees with nearly 500 exhibitors on hand.  Despite the heightened travel restrictions and other events canceling daily, the conference organizers still chose to hold the event. To better accommodate the growing number of attendees restricted from travel, the organizers decided to turn more than 90% of its 700+ planned technical sessions into live streaming or pre-recorded virtual presentations.

From In-Person to Virtual Conference

I was registered to attend the conference in San Diego and was looking forward to the in-person technical sessions that were scheduled in my planner.  I was also looking forward to walking the show floor, talking to colleagues and technical experts, and seeing new technology. Unfortunately, as the conference date approached, it didn’t look like it was going to be possible for me to attend in person this year.

The Optical Society, the leading professional society in optics and photonics that produces the event, did a great job in the weeks before the event reorganizing their online offering so as to retain most of the technical session content while observing the reality of the growing COVID-19 concerns.  They worked diligently to pre-record the technical talks if the speaker was not planning to attend and to provide access to attendees who chose to attend virtually.  This was great as I was still able to attend and view many of the technical discussions I was hoping to see.

As the conference sessions were either streamed live from the presentation room or with a moderator introducing a pre-recorded video, the feeling of the conference definitely changed, but it was not all bad.  The video stream still offered remote attendees a chance to ask questions and allowed the speakers to engage with the audience, both in person and online.

Technical Highlights

The technical focus for me this year was to understand the industry trends around Silicon Photonics (SiP), LIDAR, Free Space Optical (FSO) communication, and other related technological advances.  Photonics and Free Space Optics are two key technologies where Benchmark has extensive expertise and where we are focused on adding more capabilities to support our customers in the advanced computing & communications markets.

One of the most interesting presentations for me was, “Celebrating 50 Years of Light-speed Connections” by the keynote, David Welch, founder and chief information officer of Infinera Corporation. The presentation provided a history of optical fiber while also giving a glimpse into the future and an expectation of exciting things to come. 

The plenary session, which had several speakers from China’s telecom industry and Academia, included discussions on the 5G evolution, including the challenges and opportunities facing the technology.  One particularly interesting presentation was by Morio Toyoshima from Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) discussing the trends of free space laser communications for satellite communications.

Looking Ahead to 2021

In the face of a global pandemic, OFC embraced change with their approach to hosting a large public event. I thank the show organizers, the attendees, the moderators, and the technical leaders that made the conference possible for all attendees.  Although I greatly appreciated the technical information and industry trends I witnessed, I did miss the interaction with fellow technical colleagues on the show floor.

Overall, OFC is one of the premier global shows for optical communication and a must attend event for anyone in the industry.  I look forward to the event in 2021, occurring March 30 – April 2 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, to get a peek into the new and exciting telecom technologies.

About Benchmark Communications Computing

about the author

Mitchell Gebheim

Mitchell Gebheim is a Technical Business Development Director for the advanced computing and next-gen communications sectors serving as a technical leader for the business development team. In his 25 years with Benchmark, Mitchell has served as Product Development Engineering Manager, Electrical Engineering Manager, Project Manager, and Project Engineer. Mitchell holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin. Originally from Milwaukee, Mitchell currently resides in Houlton, Wisconsin just east of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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